Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. ~Scott Adams
I am often struck by how often we are all afraid of making mistakes. I absolutely lump myself into that category, which is part of the reason I work so hard. I don’t want make a single mistake in any of my work. And if I do make a mistake, I more often than not pray that it’s one that other people won’t see. And I don’t think I’m alone. Everywhere I look, people are terrified of making an error.
Why is that? Why are we afraid to make mistakes?
Logically, we know that none of us are perfect. We understand that everyone will make mistakes and we accept the mistakes of others with grace (usually). Yet, we hold ourselves to a higher standard. Like it’s okay if others make mistakes as long as we don’t make them ourselves. That’s so hypocritical and judgmental. It says in some way that we think we are “better” than the others who surround us. Even just writing that sentence made me cringe a little, mostly because I see myself in it. I certainly don’t think of myself as above anyone, yet by having that double standard, that’s exactly what I’m doing.
So if we are aware that we’re not perfect and acknowledge that it’s okay to make mistakes, why are we so afraid of them? Is it because others may think poorly of us? We may be letting our colleagues, students or ourselves down in some way? Or is it because a mistake implies an error in some way? I think this last piece might be a bigger part of our discomfort than we may see at first glance. Think back to your elementary art class. If you strayed from the original project, it didn’t look like everyone else’s. It wasn’t “perfect”. But that’s the beauty of making mistakes! Sometimes, you need to work with the mistake to turn it into the piece of art that you were hoping to create.
Sometimes, the mistake itself is what turns an artwork into a work of art.
The reason I think this is such an important thought-train to ride is because we transfer our own fears of mistakes to our students and children. Unwittingly, we strive for perfection in front of them: the perfect lesson plan, the perfect lesson execution, the perfect assessment. We want them to have the very best teacher in us that’s possible. And there’s nothing wrong with this – to a point. But too often, teachers take that goal of being the best teacher within themselves into an unattainable goal of being a perfect teacher.
And that’s when they begin to deny creativity within themselves. They begin to “play it safe” – to avoid new technologies, to turn away from an integration strategy because it’s not something they are comfortable with themselves, to yearn for a pre-made lesson plan instead of a lesson idea seed that they could develop and grow. That’s when our teachers stop engaging in the learning process with their students and begin the learning spoonfeeding for their students.
What happens when our students see this?
They begin to be afraid of mistakes too. They are fearful of any risks, of thinking outside of the box, of trying “if/then” scenarios in the classroom. They don’t want to show their progress and be proud of their growth; they want to share their products of perfection and pretend that growth doesn’t exist. If we want to enable and empower our students to be the creative, innovative thinkers of tomorrow, we need to get them comfortable with and excited about the possibilities of mistakes today. We all need to push past our own version of fear and take the risk of embracing our mistakes. Then, we can all be artists in every classroom.
Susan Riley is the founder and President of EducationCloset.com. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, Common Core State Standards, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and Arts and the Common Core.
Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter.